Article: Successful People Ask Better Sales Questions

24th January 2018 | By Frances Pratt

ask better sales questions

"Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers." Tony Robbins sums this up so well!
So HOW do you ask better questions and what questions should you ask in a sales conversation.
Learn more about asking better sales questions!

Why questions are important:

Your first job is to understand exactly what the problem is and why it exists for this person and in this company.  Think of yourself as an investigative journalist.  Your job is to ask lots of questions, to get the client talking and to really dig and uncover the logical and emotional reasons that their problem exists.  You have to find out the things that they want to tell you … and the things that they are reticent to.  Sometimes in this process you actually help them discover more about the problem.

Customers will tell you more so that you can better understand their needs and wants and so better fit the right solution to their problem.  Ultimately the better you can fit the solution to them and their problem the happier and more loyal they will be.  Also because you have shown them how it fits them and their problem they are far less like to be price sensitive.

Where to start with questioning:

I like to start with questions that I already know the answers to or questions that I know are going to be answered with a “yes”.  These are closed questions.  This helps all parties feel more comfortable and once people have started saying yes … they are more likely to continue and to open up so then you can start to explore a little more.

Opening exploration questions

  • Can you tell me a little about your business?
  • What are the top priorities for your business right now?
  • Use current events (that are business related) and then ask them to say how their business is finding that or responding to it.


Questions to build your understanding

  1. Tell me a little more about your business?
  2. Can you tell me about your organisation structure?
    1. How many employees?
    2. How many offices?
    3. Geographic structure
    4. Vertical structure (around industries or products)?
  3. What is your position within the company?
    1. What are your main KPI’s?
    2. What do you enjoy about your job?
    3. What’s the hardest thing about your job?
    4. What would you like to change?
  4. Why do customers buy from you?
    1. What’s your competitive edge?
  5. Can you tell me how your company makes decisions about XXX ?
    1. Who is involved?
    2. What’s the typical process / number of meetings?


Questions that get down to the real problem

Once you know more about the company and the person, your next job is to identify the problem(s) the client wants to do something about.

  • How do they feel about this?

Quantify what this means for them in terms of revenue or cost impact.

  • How much does it affect revenue / costs?
  • How often does this happen?
  • How long has this been happening?
  • Is this an increasing problem?
  • What’s the impact on:
    • The company?
    • Their job?
    • Them personally?


Qualifying questions

Qualify the business impact of the core problem – help them dig into the problem and uncover all aspects.  Here are some things to try:

  • What have they tried in the past?
    • Who was involved?
    • What worked?
    • What didn’t work – why?
  • Where to from here with this problem – what’s your next step?
  • If you could fix this … what would that mean for:
    • You?
    • Your job?
    • Your business?
  • If this isn’t fixed  … what would that mean for:
    • You?
    • Your job?
    • Your business?


Getting the client to help build the solution

Once you’re comfortable that you understand the problem, the next thing is to get the client thinking about what a great solution might look like. The word “solution” helps uncover the rational things. 

  • What does the solution look like for them, for their department, for the company that they’re working for, for their clients?
  • Who else does this problem impact and what does a good solution look like for them?

I also use the word “success” because the question “What does success look like?” illicits a different reponse and you’re more likely to get some emotional answers to that question.

One of the things that you’re trying to uncover here is really what a great solution is including delivery.  What’s the team who’s going to deliver it look like? What help might they need internally in order to deliver this successfully?

Finding fit:

You know the problem and you’ve worked on a potential solution with the client.  If you see that there’s a fit then now is the time to start exploring that. I don’t give you permission here to start talking about you.

Here are some examples of questions that help with fit:

“So, if we could provide a solution that looked like this <explanation>, what would that mean for you?” and listen.

“So, if we were going to try and implement that type of solution, who might be involved in that implementation?” and listen

“Who are the people that are going to make a decision around this and what’s important to those people?”

Once you have found some items that you can help with – then get more information.  I like to use very simple questions here like:

“You mentioned XXXXXX – can you tell me some more about that?”

You want to find out about:

  • The costs associated with the problem
  • Staff time wasted
  • Is this a priority from their superiors
  • What ideas have been tried to remedy this problem to date
    • How have they worked
    • What could have been done differently


Talk a Little About your Solution

Do this only at the very end and use it to summarise what you have learned.  For example:

“We have a XXXX  that addresses XXXX concern that you have.  It does that by XXXX and XXXX.  The next step would be for me to go and put together some more information in a proposal about how XXXX can specifically address your problems and fit your needs.”

Questions that need to be answered by the end of the First Meeting:

  1. Know if they have a budget assigned for addressing this problem
    1. And how much that is if they will tell you
  2. What timeframe is assigned to this budget (this financial year etc)
    1. Do they have an implementation date in mind?
  3. What is the buying process for your client
    1. Who is involved in this
  4. What criteria will be used in the decision making process
    1. Which criteria are the most important and why
    2. Typically this will involve one or more of these:
      1. Product or service features and benefits
      2. Product quality
      3. Professional support or ease of use
      4. Investment
      5. Image
  5. Know the next step and timeframe


Quick check that you know the answers to:

  • Who is involved in buying (influencers, approvers, decision maker)
  • Why are they buying (stated reasons (logical) as well as often unstated (emotional / ego etc)
  • What are they buying (hopefully your products and services)
  • How are they buying (what is their preferred process + of course the money question)


Great questions for the end of your first meeting:

“If there was a solution to ________ problem that we have talked about today, what would an ideal solution look like for you?”

“If there was a solution to ________ problem that we have talked about today, what would an ideal solution look like for your company?”

“If there was a solution to ________ problem that we have talked about today, what would an ideal solution look like for your boss?”

What to do once you’ve left that 1st meeting:

Take some time to stop and summarise your thoughts on:

  1. What went well / not so well
  2. What have you found out about the problem and the person
  3. What next steps have you confirmed with the client.

Make sure you follow up with an email that:

  1. Thanks them for their time and for sharing their thoughts on ________ problem / idea.
  2. Confirms the next steps
    1. From them
    2. From you
  3. Confirms your next point of contact with them.
  4. Invites them to call you should any questions come up in the meantime.


So now you have ALL the questions you need to get to really understand your client and the problem they are interested in solving and what they are likely to want to buy.

For the love of sales,

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